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Climate change and sustainability in primary and intermediate schools report

Rachel Bolstad

How does climate change and sustainability feature in primary and intermediate school classrooms and whole-school practices?

We asked teachers and principals a few questions about climate change and sustainability as part of the 2019 NZCER national survey of English-medium primary and intermediate schools.

Findings include:

  • Many principals and teachers think climate change will have moderate to major impacts in their students’ lifetimes.
  • Half of the principals said their school supports students who choose to take part in climate action such as school strikes.
  • Many schools have a focus on practices such as waste reduction and gardening activities.  Other areas that could reduce schools’ climate impacts may be harder for schools to act on individually; for example, improvements to energy efficiency, reducing resource consumption or managing travel-related emissions
  • Teacher responses indicate that while sustainability and the environment are a focus in classrooms, climate change is less of a focus, particularly for students in the junior years.
  • Teachers were more likely to say their students undertook direct actions for the environment, and less likely to say their students undertook social actions for the environment.

Principals expressed a range of suggestions for system-wide changes or transitions that might be needed in response to climate change. These included:

  • system-wide approaches to improving infrastructure efficiency
  • making climate change response a bigger priority across the system and embedding it into all school decisions, and
  • approaches to curriculum and pedagogy that support localised actions, critical and creative thinking, and empowerment of young people and communities.

Key findings are summarised in this infographic.

Socially just and equitable education system
Year published: 
Publication type: 
Research report
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